13 important lessons from this lecture:
00:01:20 Criminal profiling tends to operate on cold logic and experience collated from research findings from over the years; it’s neither mystical, magical, nor psychic.
00:01:41 Jack the Ripper is the most famous serial killer of all time mainly because his murders occurred at the beginning of tabloid journalism and because the killer was never caught.
The police surgeon who handled Jack the Ripper’s victim’s bodies extrapolated that the way the organs had been so expertly removed from the body suggested the killer would likely be a surgeon, a butcher, or a mortuary worker. This is an example of how criminal profiling works.
00:03:58 Typical serial killers:
- Have killed 3 or more people with a break in between each killing. This is different from a spree killer – which is a person who kills multiple people in a short time in one or multiple locations.
- Are usually males between 20-40 years old who have had a history of unstable relationships and employment in positions which typicaly offer no career advancement such as security guard, club bouncer, driver, etc.).
- Would likely be described by their neighbors and colleagues as ‘ordinary.’
- Change living addresses rather frequently, perhaps as a way if distancing themselves from their crimes.
- Are quite often solitary ‘loners,’ however not always.
- Are typically psychopaths – irresponsable, cruel, self-serving and skilled liars who lack empathy for their victims.
- Often have a history of minor crimes such as assault, trespass and burglary.
- Tend to be quite intelligent and charming, however this may be distorted due to the dramatization made by the media in selecting which murderers they cover, and that the less intelligent serial killers make mistakes which result in their getting caught early in their serial killer career before they’ve reached their 3rd victim.
- Although extremely rare as a breed, they are fairly evenly distributed among ethnic race. They tend, however, to be mostly viewed as being caucasian. This may perhaps be again due to media dramatization and interview selection.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information on a psychopaths, watch the lecture 14 theories of Causes & Deterrance of Criminality also by Professor Glenn D Wilson at Gresham College.]
00:07:23 Common motives of serial killers:
- Are frequently sexual and sadistic, and may include revenge, lacking a feeling of power or self-esteem, and the killing empowers the person.
- Tend to target strangers, and of a particular category of people such as prostitutes.
- Tend to have an intimate, hands-on approach using knives, strangulation, their fists, etc. compared to common killers who use guns and explosives.
- Tend to overkill – do things beyond what is necessary to kill the victim, which suggests a sort of pleasure in the act.
- Some take trophies from the victims as a sort of souvenir to help them to relive the crime.
- Tend to be thrill-seekers who take pride in their ability to capture media attention and evade capture by dancing with the police, and might enjoy reading about themselves in the newspapper.
- Tend to be mission-oriented – performing the killings in order to “rid the world of a certain type of person.”
00:09:33 Modus Operandi (MO) is “the term is used to describe someone’s habits of working, particularly in the context of business or criminal investigations;” the type of weapon used, how the killer entered the premises and gained access to the victim, etc. MO varies according to the circumstances.
The killer’s signature, however, is unique and stable, revealing psychological needs (e.g., ritual aspects of crime, nicknames, the type of trophy taken, posing the corpse, inserting objects into the corpse, leaving notes…) Signatures are more useful in linking murders and tracking the person responsible for the killings than MOs.
00:13:41 The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) categorizes serial killers into two major types: organized and disorganized.
Organized serial killers tend to:
- Have an above average IQ
- Plan their crimes meticulously, and abduct, kill, and dispose in different locations
- Operate more in the daytime
- Become personal with their victims, engaging with them in conversation to get them to let down their guard and lure them
- Meticulously control the scene of the crime so as to leave as few unintentional clues as possible
- Have working knowledge of forensics to understand what techniques and technology the police use to catch killers
- Maintain socially normal lives and blend into society – have friends, lovers, wives and children
- Enjoy following their exploits in the media
Disorganized serial killers tend to be the exact opposite:
- Have a below average IQ
- Act impulsively, using whatever weapon they have at their immediate disposal
- Make little to no attempt to hide the body and the crime scene is chaotic, which is usually how they are caught
- Socially don’t blend into society, often live alone and often living near the location of their crimes
- May have a history of mental illness
- Operate more during the night time
- De-personalize their victim, not recognizing their victim as a fellow human being
- Aren’t interested in following their exploits in the media
00:16:00 In 1998, Holmes & Holmes proposed five subtypes of serial killer profiles:
- Vision-oriented – Killer claims to receive messages from God or the Devil, and their killings are seen as “job to be done.”
- Mission-oriented – Killer feels compelled to rid the world of some undesirable group of people. Often they mask their enjoyment of killing with their mission to “make the world a better place.”
- Lust-oriented – While sexually-based, fantasy driven killers may also enjoy necrophilia, mutilation, and cannibalism
- Thrill-seeking oriented – Enjoy the adreniline rush of the hunt & kill. These killers lose interest in the victim once after they have died.
- Power/control-oriented – Seek total domination over the victim (perhaps because they lack self-esteem or power in their current station in life) and prefer to extend the killing process over a long period of time.
There is a great deal of overlap among the above five subtypes, and there isn’t any empirical research suggesting that these are the only subtypes.
00:18:37 David Canter, one of Britain’s top criminal profilers, created a statistical procedure called the Radex Model of Killer’s Actions which shows the correlation between the acts of violence and their motives categorized into four motives:
(Above photo screenshot taken from The Organized/Disorganized Typology of Serial Murder: Myth or Model? by David V. Canter, Laurence J. Alison, Emily Alison, and Natalia Wentink from the University of Liverpool.)
00:26:44 While most serial killers are male, there are also female killers. Most female serial killers tend to:
- Use poison, which can make it difficult to spot
- Kill people close to them – relatives, husband, friends, children
- Kill for profit – inheritance or insurance, or
- Kill out of a sense of ‘mercy’ – to alleviate the pain and torment of people in their care, perhaps elderly, who are suffering, or
- Kill out of lust (folie a deux) – this is typically done with a male partner
00:28:54 In 1854, after an outbreak of cholera in Soho, London, Dr John Snow triangulated all the areas of outbreak and traced its source to the water pump on Broadwick Street.
Geographic profiling (Geo-profiling) works much the same way. It is “a criminal investigative methodology that analyzes the locations of a connected series of crimes to determine the most probable area of offender residence… to understand spatial behavior of an offender and focusing the investigation to a smaller area of the community.”
[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information on geo-profiling, watch the lecture 14 theories of Causes & Deterrance of Criminality also by Professor Glenn D Wilson at Gresham College.]
00:33:26 Some criminals seem to create psychological barriers between their home base and their operating area – where they commit their crimes, with a buffer zone in between. Further, these psychological barriers tend to lead to three types of criminals:
- Marauders tend to operate in a confined area near their home base, within a comfort zone where they are most aware of the environment.
- Commuters tend to be more mobile, operating over greater distances and in locations far away from their home base
- Marauder/Commuters who may operate in terms of phases or patterns
Geo-profiling also helps with identifying the criminal’s transportation methods – how the criminal gets to and from his operating areas, and body disposal sites – locations where serial killers leave their victims.
00:43:51 While psychological profiling may help narrow the field of potential suspects, a psychological profile does not constitute evidence in the court of law, and there have been miscarriages of justice where police targeted, accused, and built entire cases around potential suspects simply because they “fitted the preconceived profile of a likely killer.” There could very well be thousands of potential suspects fitting the psychological profile of a particular criminal profile.
00:49:04 Contrary to the premise of the movie Minority Report’s pre-crime unit, psychological profiling cannot identify criminals before they commit a crime.
3 responses to “129. Criminal Profiling: Introduction & Methodology of Profiling Serial Killers”
[…] 129. Introduction & methodology of profiling serial killers […]
[…] NOTE: Recall in Glenn D. Wilson‘s lecture Introduction & Methodology of Profiling Serial Killers at Gresham College that one common motive of serial killers is that they tend to be […]
[…] NOTE: For more information on this, watch Glenn Wilson’s lectures Introduction & Methodology of Profiling Serial Killers and Love Sickness: The Problematic & Pathological Side of Love at Gresham […]